Hooray for hybrid buses

It's a small step toward reducing America's thirst for fossil fuels and becoming more energy independent as a nation, but we like to think that adding a hybrid school bus to the Rock Hill district's fleet is a step in the right direction.

The plug-in hybrid diesel-electric yellow bus now carting local students to school is one of only two in the state. The second was given to Richland School District 2 in Columbia.

Both came from the Plug-In Hybrid Electric School Bus Project, a consortium of school districts, state energy agencies and student transportation providers led by Raleigh, N.C.-based Advanced Energy. Nineteen buses are being distributed nationally as part of the project.

The bus cost about $220,000, nearly $152,000 more than the state pays for its regular diesel buses. But advocates hope the buses will be available for about half that in a few years as production increases.

The bus runs for about 30 miles on electricity alone, after which the diesel engine kicks in. But even when the diesel engine is in use, fuel costs are minimal and emissions are almost nonexistent.

That could be an important consideration, especially for a region that has been designated by the Environmental Protection Agency as a nonattainment area for ground-level ozone pollution. The eight-county Charlotte region, including eastern York County, was classified as a nonattainment area in 2004 and must reduce its output of ground-level ozone by 2010 or face restrictions.

Without the help of grants, the economics of hybrid buses don't make sense for the district at this point. But that could change.

Plans are in the works to buy and distribute about 300 more plug-in hybrids in the state next year. As more hybrid buses are added, fuel savings increase.

So, as more and more hybrids are manufactured, unit prices fall as the cost of fuel continues to rise. Eventually, hybrids will be a bargain.

We're proud that the Rock Hill school district has been chosen as one of the pioneers for this technology. As the Chinese proverb says, each journey begins with a single step.

Introduction of the first hybrid diesl bus to the local school district fleet could be sign of future.